Conor Matthews always dreamed of making it in the music business; he just never thought it would happen before he graduated high school.
At just 16, Matthews already has a record deal with Tate Music Group, an independent recording company based in Oklahoma.
His debut album, “It’s the Change,” became available on iTunes in February, and was officially released May 1 on Amazon.com. The Christian, pop/rock album has eight tracks, all written by Matthews himself.
“This has been one of the most exciting times of my life,” he said. "It's definitely a dream come true."
Matthews, a junior at Lemont High School, has wanted to be a musician for as long as he can remember. His parents, Linda and Craig Matthews, bought him a piano when he was 6, and he's been playing and singing ever since.
"I started playing "The Star-Spangled Banner" and writing my own jingles," he said. "I don't know where it came from. I've just always had an ear for music."
When he was 13, he started writing his own songs.
"Songwriting became my outlet," he said. “I’m able to get everything off my chest and get a better understanding of what’s going on in my head.”
Although most of his music is influenced by his Christian faith, his songs also touch on everything from politics to self-image.
“I always want my songs to be relatable,” he said. “I want people to listen and be able to work through whatever is going on in their lives. I want them to have hope.”
Honing His Craft
Matthews first started recording his own songs his freshman year after enrolling music teacher Matt Doherty’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Methods class. With Doherty’s guidance, he continued writing and experimenting with the piano.
“Conor is someone who has a high standard for himself, so he’s really thoughtful when he writes,” Doherty said. “He’s always trying to express what’s going on in his head in the best way possible. It’s refreshing to see that from someone his age.”
With dozens of songs written and several demos recorded, Matthews set the lofty goal of getting a song on the radio before graduation.
“I became a lot more serious about wanting to pursue music,” he said. “I wanted to learn as much as I could to become a better songwriter and musician.”
During his sophomore year, Matthews enrolled in Music Unlimited with veteran teacher Terry Redford. The class allows students to further develop their music skills, and gives them the opportunity to produce a portfolio of music and multimedia presentations.
It was clear early on that Matthews had a knack for music.
“He was very adept at using the equipment, and could write rather fast,” Redford said. “Every two weeks he was turning in original songs.”
Redford was particularly impressed by Matthews’ lyrical ability.
“His songs are really uplifting and positive,” Redford said. “It was encouraging to me that he had this bright perspective on things, and could so eloquently express himself.”
With encouragement from Redford, Matthews began sending his demos to industry professionals to see if there was any interest in recording his music.
“Mr. Doherty and Mr. Redford have been really supportive, and have been a big part in my music the past few years,” Matthews said. “With Mr. Redford’s help, I was able to start getting my music out to different companies to see if there was any interest.”
‘A Dream Come True’
It didn’t take long for Matthews to catch the eyes—and ears—of Tate Music Group in Oklahoma. The family-owned, Christian company specializes in producing, marketing and distributing music by up and coming artists.
“I really couldn’t believe it happened so fast,” Matthews said. “My parents weren’t even sure how legitimate it was at first, just because it was also so fast and seemed too good to be true.”
Matthews, then 15, signed a contract with TMG in the spring of 2011, and recorded eight original songs by August.
TMG Artist and Repertoire Director Brianne Webb said the label is proud to have Matthews on its roster of young artists.
"From the first review of Conor's demo, our A&R team found great potential in him as both a singer and a songwriter," she said. "With vocals mature beyond his age, meaningful lyrics that hit close to home and catchy melodies, we were excited to get him into the studio to give him production that would showcase his original sound. We're honored to have him on our roster and excited about his album's debut."
Prior to the release of his album, Matthews was involved in everything from production decisions to design. The title, "It's the Change," comes from one of his most personal songs.
"I wrote that song about a change in my life that occurred a few years ago when I was 14 and going through a rough time," Matthews said. "For me, the change was God picking me up off the ground and sending me in the right direction. "It's the Change" has a strong message of hope, and that's what I wanted my album to represent."
Matthews' single "Calling Out" has already gotten airplay on Oklahama radio stations, and TMG is working to distribute his music in Illinois.
Looking to the Future
This summer, Matthews will record a series of music videos covering songs by more well-known artists. At the end of the series, he'll make a video for "Calling Out."
He's also booking plenty of shows.
"It's going to be a busy few months, but I'm excited to perform and hopefully expand my fan base," he said.
He is also a standout student at Lemont High School, ranking among the top 5 percent of his class. He participated in the school's production of "Beauty and the Beast" his freshman year, and was cast in a state-qualifying drama production. He has also participated in marching band, Foreign Language Club, Model United Nations and Future Business Leaders of America.
Next year, Matthews hopes to attend Belmont University in Nashville, TN, to study music business.
"The ideal situation would be to become a musician or a songwriter for other musicians," he said.
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